Glass works by Thomas Stearns, an important glassmaker of the 20th century, are on display in Venice

Thomas Stearns at Venini, curated by Marino Barovier and dedicated to the American artist who collaborated with the Murano glassmaker in the early 1960s, is the next exhibition in the program The Rooms of Glass, which will be open to the public on theIsland of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice from September 9, 2019 to January 5, 2020.

The exhibition traces for the first time the entire glass production of American Thomas Stearns (Oklahoma City, 1936 - Philadelphia, 2006), who arrived in Murano in 1960 thanks to a postgraduate scholarship granted by the Italian government for glass research activities. Born in Oklahoma City, Stearns trained first at Memphis College of Art and later at Cranbrook Academy of Art where he studied painting and textile art in particular between 1957 and 1959. During the same period the artist also began some experimentation with plate glass, developing an interest in this material that in 1960 led him to Venini, where he remained until 1962.

Stearns arrived in Murano at an important moment of transition because, following the untimely death of Paolo Venini, the management of Venini had been taken over by his son-in-law, architect Ludovico de Santillana, who showed great openness toward him. After an initial period in which he approached the Murano techniques, thanks to the collaboration of master “Checco” Ongaro, the only one among the masters who made himself available to the American’s experiments, Stearns began to create a number of works with an extremely original and unusual character for Murano production.

Thus,Thomas Stearns at Venini will present for the first time all the unique pieces and small series of glassware created between 1961 and 1962 and conceived as an artistic expression with a sculptural character, often distinguishable by their asymmetrical forms and singular glass fabrics of great materiality, made with unusual color combinations evocative of Venetian reality, repeatedly resorting to the incalmo technique, but also to cold finishing techniques. The 80 pieces on display represent the high quality and sophistication of the production of Thomas Stearns, who at the end of 1961, was then hired by Venini as a guest designer with the task of also developing designs for mass production.

In 1962, on the occasion of the XXXI Biennale, Venini also chose to exhibit six pieces by the American artist judged worthy of the gold medal, which, however, was not awarded when it became known that the author was not Italian.

On this occasion, works such as the evocatively titled Facades of Venice“vases” with their evocative reeded glass weaving were seen along with the Doge’s Hat and its variants, obtained by the combination of opaque colors such as anthracite (black with metallic highlights), ochre, red or gray interspersed with transparent glass inserts, which will be on display in the exhibition.

The exhibition, which brings together works of great rarity, will highlight the results of Stearns’ experience with Murano glass: from small series of vases and lamps, to one-of-a-kind pieces, from author’s proofs, to prototypes up to the Sentinel of Venice, an unprecedented glass sculpture, close to abstract expressionism, which represents his glass masterpiece. Made in his last period in the furnace, the work, a kind of homage to Venice was born in parallel with Stearns’ research on the use of textile fibers that led to original sculptures, some visible in the exhibition, to the making of which he devoted himself with equal passion upon his return to the United States.

The catalog, edited by Marino Barovier and Carla Sonego and published by Skira, recounts this journey by documenting for the first time Thomas Stearns’ activity in Murano thanks to unpublished documents from the Venini archives and the artist’s personal archives, and the research that led to the identification of works preserved in private collections and museum institutions.

For all information you can email or visit the official Glass Rooms website.

Pictured: Thomas Stearns, Cylindrical Vase and Doge’s Hat in double-engraved glass (1961-62; Rob Beyer Collection). Photo credit: Enrico Fiorese

Source: press release

Glass works by Thomas Stearns, an important glassmaker of the 20th century, are on display in Venice
Glass works by Thomas Stearns, an important glassmaker of the 20th century, are on display in Venice

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